Ingredient Label Ingrates: What to Avoid & Why

You’ve probably seen little notices on skincare boxes touting their lack of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, blah blah blah. But what does that all mean? Not all companies put their claims on their packaging, but they do always put their ingredients list. Here’s how you can read an ingredients list and know what to avoid.


Sulfates (or sulphates if you’re English) are elements in skin and haircare that cause products like facewash and shampoo to suds up. You are left with that squeaky-clean feeling. Great, right? No, señor. Sorry to tell ya, but that super sudsy foam you got goin’ on is drying your skin and hair out. Sulfates are all around bad ingredients.



Sodium laurel sulfate

Sodium laureth sulfate


Parabens are preservatives that are often used in skincare, haricare, and makeup/ The problem? Studies show they might have carcinogenic properties (yikes!). If you want to be on the safe side avoid anything with the term paraben, or ending in the suffix “-paraben.”

Also avoid:

Hydrobenzoic acid


Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates



Yep, like the stuff used to embalm dead bodies. It’s a preservative. So the stuff used to keep dead people from decomposing also serves to keep many cosmetic products fresher for longer.

You might have heard about the issues this chemical caused being a main ingredient in Brazilian hair straightening a few years back. Such as small, innocuous, little molecule, right? Wrong.


While it’s been removed from this hair-straightening process (for the most part), this potentially-cancer-causing irritant can still exist in other products. Avoid the following damaging chemicals that can release formaldehyde as a byproduct:

DD hydantoin

Dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin

Diazolidinyl urea



Imidazolidinyl urea

Diazolidinyl urea

Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)


Once again, these are linked to cancer and reproductive complications. To be extra safe, you might want to steer clear of:






FYI: Many synthetic fragrances are made up of phthalates too


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No, not that kind. See my other article The Good, The Bad, and the Neutral: Alcohols in Beauty Products


Recent studies have come out saying that triclosan, the antibacterial component of most handwashes, could be carcinogenic. Many companies are trying to remove it from their products. Not many face and hair ingredients contain triclosan, but keep an eye out just in case.

Also articles from Byrdie and BeautyHigh.

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